Brian Snitker, Bobby Cox and the friendship that shapes Atlanta

By on October 22, 2021 0

ATLANTA – The ranch-style house is maybe 15 minutes from the stadium. During almost every homestand these days, Brian Snitker, manager of the Atlanta Braves, makes a detour to visit.

He’s here to talk to Bobby Cox. Sometimes Cox answers something.

Cox is now 80, 11 years after a Hall of Fame managerial career, and more than two years after a devastating stroke. The man who spent decades cuddling players, chirping referees and snapping his spikes through dugout canoes from San Diego to Boston is unable to make it to the stadium these days.

So Snitker goes to him.

It’s a balm for Cox, who has won more games than all but three of the managers. But it’s also a stabilizing ritual for Snitker, a ritual that players, coaches and managers say shapes his approach to the club Cox has led for 25 seasons. In nine of those years, Cox led Atlanta to the National League Championship Series, where Snitker now holds the franchise for a second straight season. Atlanta leads the series in best of seven, 2-1, after a stunning loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday. Game 4 is scheduled for Wednesday in Los Angeles.

No playoff team has received a mid-year makeover more than Atlanta, which wheezed early and then went 36-18 in the last 54 games of the regular season. Some of his July acquisitions, including outfielder Joc Pederson and Eddie Rosario, have seen star turns this month. But much of Atlanta’s architecture – starting with Snitker’s hiring in 2016 and extending to the composition of its staff and the atmosphere of the clubhouse – can be attributed to the relationship of its manager with Cox.

“Everything he knows comes from Bobby,” said Eddie Pérez, who was a Cox wide receiver and coached both Cox and Snitker. “He spent so many years in the minor leagues, and guess who was in the big league?” Bobby Cox, teaching everyone how to do everything.

Snitker, 66, started watching Cox closely around 40 years ago, when Cox first led in Atlanta and Snitker began to build a coaching career in the franchise’s farming system. Back then, Snitker recalls, he was less drawn to Cox’s baseball sense than his welcoming attitude to the more low-key people of Atlanta’s sprawling organization.

Although Snitker has worked with the major league team sporadically over the years, he has spent most of his time in the minors. Cox, who returned to the team for good in 1990, hired Snitker as a third baseman in 2007 and quickly found himself with some sort of shadow.

“At 6:30 am I would be in the radar room talking because I was so looking forward to that time of day,” Snitker said in an interview in the canoe at Atlanta’s Truist Park home. “We were talking about the game, but we were talking about everything. It was just a really cool time, one of those priceless moments, every afternoon or every evening.

Widely known in the game as “Snit,” the coach became a daily student of Cox: watching how he navigated the puzzles in baseball, how he appeased tall talent, and how he kept them under. control, even how he argued with reporters.

Cox entered semi-retirement in 2010, when he stepped down as director, but took on a front office role. Fredi Gonzalez, Cox’s immediate successor, kept Snitker for several more seasons.

Snitker was leading the suburban Atlanta AAA-class squad in May 2016 when the club fired Gonzalez, whose poor record had disappointed a city that had grown used to the playoffs. Snitker crossed town to become the interim manager while Atlanta considered a series of candidates, including Pérez, to take the job on a permanent basis. In discussions with team leaders, Cox brought out his preference.

“Bobby is not a shrinking purple, and Bobby has made it clear who he supports and why he supports him,” said Terry McGuirk, team president and decades-long sports executive in Atlanta.

Cox got what he wanted and, by design or by chance, a permanent role as the head of the new director.

“If I called, he would answer, and when I first got this job, I would call him all the time and ask him what I’m doing here or how I’m doing it,” said Snitker, who was suddenly the one hosting Cox for the pre-game. coffee sessions. “He was my sounding board.

Cox appeared at Truist Park in April 2019, wearing a jersey and called “play ball!” to start the season. He had his stroke the next day. Snitker went to the hospital, he said, “because I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”

It was soon clear that the Cox that Snitker had known for decades was gone. His speech largely disappeared and his right arm was paralyzed. He did not leave the hospital for over a month, before being transferred to a rehabilitation center and, finally, home.

Snitker’s visits there became a regular occurrence, leading Cox to burst into joy, especially if his latest successor arrived with a peachy milkshake.

“Sometimes he doesn’t remember my name, the names of the kids, the names of the grandchildren, but someone from baseball can come in and they can start talking about the playoff games or the World Series from him. years ago, and he can tell you who was pitching in the third inning, “said Pam Cox, who has been married to Bobby Cox for almost 43 years.” Baseball was his life, and he lived for it. “

Cox last visited the stadium in 2020, when he watched a McGuirk sequel game at a stadium left empty by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, however, Snitker only sees it at home, where they sit in recliners and remember games, or contemplate scans or the craziness of playoff schedules. Snitker, who offers a hug and a left handshake from Cox and an “I love you”, does most of the talking, as he has to very often.

“I get emotional at times watching,” said Pam Cox, who said John Schuerholz, Atlanta general manager during Cox’s tenure, and Leo Mazzone, Atlanta’s heyday coach, are visiting also often. “It’s like watching your father and son befriend each other.”

Immediately after Atlanta’s victory over Milwaukee in a divisional series, McGuirk said, Snitker was in the clubhouse, hatching a plan to visit Cox the next day with a load of playoff hats and shirts. He had already stopped earlier in the week on a day off in the series.

There is a feeling around Atlanta that the club are in their current position due to Cox’s continued influence. Pérez, the hero of the 1999 NLCS, the last time Atlanta won the pennant, and Jesse Chavez, who pitched under Cox during part of 2010 and returned to the Atlanta paddock this year, said they believed that Cox’s style resurfaces daily in the management of Snitker.

“I see a lot of similarities when it comes to watching the game, letting the game control itself until they have to make a decision,” said Chavez. Pérez said Snitker’s confidence in his players mirrored Cox’s.

Baseball officials recently struggled to find a manager who had maintained the kind of influence Cox had, even indirectly, over Atlanta. Chavez, who played for eight other teams, believed Cox’s continued ties to the franchise rivaled only those of Tommy Lasorda’s long-standing relationship with the Dodgers before his death in January.

While not many people see Cox these days, Freddie Freeman, the first baseman who appeared in 20 games for Atlanta during Cox’s last season, said Snitker provides regular updates on his visits. .

“We know he watches every game and he’s sure he’s got his boots on and doing there on TV,” Freeman said. (Indeed, Snitker said Pam Cox would sometimes report, “Oh, he got angry last night.”)

Now in charge in Atlanta, Snitker accepts that Cox’s most glorious era is in the past, that “Skipper” can only summon a limited amount now. Sometimes he can still glimpse what Cox looked like in his prime. Other times are much more difficult, the phone now silent, the office now empty.

“It’s hard not to have him there to talk and bounce things off,” Snitker said softly. “I lost a huge mentor there. I know he’s still my biggest fan, still roots like hell for me.

Proving this point, Cox was up the next night, watching TV to watch Snitker and the club he turned out to have helped build from the start.

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